Album Title: Tyhjyys
Label: Spinefarm Records
Release date: 3 March 2017
It is fair to say that Tuomas Saukkonen is a music-making machine. Black Sun Aeon, Dawn of Solace and RoutaSielu were all bands that came from the mind and the musical ability of Saukkonen. However, best of the bunch as far as I am concerned was Before The Dawn, a band that mixed dark rock, heavy metal, huge atmospheres and plenty of melody into a fantastic end product that, when unleashed to the fullest, created a hell of a racket. I’m pretty sure I own the entire Before The Dawn back catalogue as a result.
For those of you unaware, the reason for my use of the past tense is because these bands are all now defunct, disbanded and dead as the proverbial Dodo. This is a little sad because I enjoyed much of the material that these bands produced. However, fear not because these acts were laid to rest by Saukkonen so that he could focus 100% on Wolfheart, the band he formed in 2012.
I say ‘band’, but in the beginning, Wolfheart was just Saukkonen. Indeed, the debut ‘Winterborn’ was essentially a solo affair. However, the follow-up, 2015’s ‘Shadow World’ saw Saukkonen inviting a further three musicians into the fold. Mika Lammassaari was initially tapped up for extras guitar work on the debut but he impressed enough to be given a full-time berth. In addition, drummer Joonas Kauppinen and bassist Lauri Silvonen were recruited and suddenly Wolfheart had the feel of a ‘proper’ band.
This line-up remains intact as Wolfheart are about to unleash their third studio album upon the world, the unpronounceable ‘Tyhjyys’. I have tried, I really have, but the title of this album remains elusive to me, unless it is to be pronounced ‘theugh’. It is probably because I’m English and the very idea of a band using a language other than English is completely anathema to me. I jest of course and the word ‘Thyjyys’ simply means ‘Empty’ in Finnish, a somewhat fitting title for an album comprised of this kind of music.
As you might expect from the pen of Saukkonen, Wolfheart revel in darkness, atmospheric and bleak music, the kind of music that manages to sound aggressive but remains organic and emotive, conjuring up pictures in the mind’s eye of rugged, untouched landscapes relentlessly buffeted by time and the unforgiving ravages of Mother Nature.
Naturally, there are plenty of nods to Saukkonen’s past endeavours and long-term fans will, as I do, be able to hear a riff, a melody or a vocal line that is reminiscent of Before The Dawn or Black Sun Aeon for example. However, whilst the structure and blueprint of the music comes from an acorn that has not fallen far from the tree, the final product does have enough of an identity of its own.
If anything, I’d venture to say that Wolfheart has a slightly more extreme feel to it as much of the material dabbles around the edges of doom, death and black metal without falling squarely into any one of these genres. The smattering of folk music by way of some of the chosen melodies helps to keep the music of Wolfheart more accessible but, for my money, this is a more aggressive beast than most of Saukkonen’s previous endeavours.
The opening ‘Shores Of The Lake Simpele’ is a rousing composition that gets the blood flowing early on. It begins with a simple acoustic guitar-led melody, steeped in dark atmosphere and immediately calls to mind early Sentenced in terms of its apparent simplicity but evocative nature. In come the heavy guitars and the rhythm section towards the end and, in conjunction with the chanted vocals, lends the composition a real air of the epic. You could easily see this becoming a part of the live show, with fists aloft as far as the eye can see, a genuine call to arms to the Wolfheart cause.
‘Boneyard’ is an immediate favourite of mine. The staccato, fast-picked riffs and hectic rhythm section creates a breathless beginning from which there is precious little respite initially. Those well-known and loved gravelly vocals are all over the track, as those icy, bleak melodies seep into your bones. The track almost surreptitiously morphs into something more akin to the Viking metal stomp of Amon Amarth, where chunky and uncompromising riffing takes centre stage. Lead guitar breaks swirl and squeal above the controlled tumult but the master-stroke is the complete descent into calm, melodic acoustic guitar territory before the song bites back with an icy lead guitar riff that chills the bones.
Equally excellent is the immediate follow-up ‘World On Fire’ which channels more epic and inspiring Amon Amarth chunky riffing with the black metal ferocity and grandiosity of Dimmu Borgir as well as the strong melodies of Before The Dawn. It is a heady mix but it has been put together in such a way as to sound thoroughly compelling and believable.
After such a thrilling and intriguing beginning, I had really high hopes for the entirety of ‘Tyhjyys’ and ultimately, I’m not left feeling too disappointed. As the album develops, there’s a sense of familiarity and sameness that pervades, which threatens to slightly undermine the positives. And occasionally in the middle of the album my mind wanders despite my best intentions. But in spite of this, ‘Tyhjyys’ is a very commendable album indeed.
One simply cannot deny the majestic beauty of ‘The Flood’ which plays the light, heavy, light game very well indeed. The melodies are sublime, particularly during the quiet, contemplative opening and the juxtaposition of these introspective sections with the explosion of power makes for an intoxicating listening experience, full of anthemic intent.
‘Dead White’ channels the inner Before The Dawn, being a shorter, punchier track and is another high point on the album. It featuring some huge chugging riffs as well the delicate sounds of a piano and layers of atmospheric synths to bring the melodies alive.
The title track then closes things out and does so in fine fashion thanks to a slower tempo initially, a menacing doomy vibe and arguably one of the most immediate and uplifting melodies on the album. It is delivered, fittingly, by the lead guitar but is beautifully and sensitively supported by more layers of lush synths to give it that extra sense of gravitas.
Overall, ‘Tyhjyys’ is the album that many fans of Saukkonen were hoping for. It blends everything for which he is known and rightly lauded into one homogenous product that screams quality. It might miss a beat or two in the mid-to-latter stages but it is nevertheless clear that Wolfheart have put everything they have into this recording and for the most part, it is an utter joy, albeit a dark, bleak and savage joy.
The Score of Much Metal: 8.5
If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day